Muriel Rose and the Little Gallery
In 1928 Muriel Rose set up in the Little Gallery, after acting as assistant to Dorothy Hutton in her Three Shields Gallery. Both galleries were part of a loose network of retail outlets for craftwork, mainly in London, during the interwar period. All were run by women. Other examples included Ethel Mairet’s The New Handworkers Gallery, Elspeth Little’s Modern Textiles and Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn’s Dunbar-Hay Ltd.
Many women designers working on their own, or with a partner, benefited from being able to exhibit and sell their work in this way. Muriel Rose and her female staff promoted the work of women involved in textile design, ceramics, metalwork, wood-engraving and toy-making. She became the main sales outlet for the block-printed textiles of Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, and their assistant, Enid Marx. Silverware and cutlery by Catherine Cockerell, printed papers by Tirzah Grwood and the studio pottery of Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie and Norah Braden were also stocked. A variety of textiles, ranging from bobbin lace to rugs woven in the Isle of Skye in Scotland formed a part of the changing displays.
In addition to promoting the work of contemporary British designers, Muriel Rose was also responsible for intorducing her customers to ethnic crafts. She stocked artefacts made by anonymous craftspeople from South America, Eastern and Western Europe, India and China.
The Little Gallery acted as an important London showcase for quilts made in Durham, in the North of England and in Wales. This was part of an initiative by the Rural Industries Board to encourage women in the mining communities to revive the art of quilting as a means of earning income during the Depression. Muriel Rose was the London agent for their quilts, which were often made to order and were very popular with her customers.
She had a devoted clientele, which included members of the aristocracy, notably Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, important figures in London Society, like Lady Diana Cooper and people associated with the arts, such as the architect, Walter Gropius and the actor Charles Laughton. Their patronage helped to make the Little Gallery a success.
In common with many other exclusive outlets for the crafts, the Little Gallery did not survive the Second World War and closed in 1940. Muriel Rose continued to involve herself in promoting the crafts in her writings. She published ‘Artist Potters in England’ in 1955. But with the closure of the Little Gallery craftswomen lost valuable support for their work, which was not replaced by the state patronage of the arts and design as it was established after the war. At the same time Muriel Rose and other women like her involved in the retailing of design, no longer had the opportunity for creative employment.
Image captions clockwise from the top
1. Muriel Rose. Between 1928 and 1931.
2. The Little Gallery, 5 Ellis Street, London. 1935.
3. Vase made by Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, 1936. Her pots were sold by the Little Gallery.
4. Enid Marx. Hand block printed textiles from the 1930s. Her textiles were sold by the Little Gallery.
5. Woven rugs and waste paper baskets as sold by the Little Gallery and illustrated in ‘The Flat Book’, edited by J L Martin and Sadie Speight in 1939.
6. Chinese bowls, cruet set by Truda Carter and blue porcelain by William Moorcroft. All sold by the Little Gallery and illustrated in ‘The Flat Book’, edited by J L Martin and Sadie Speight in 1939.
7. Illustrations for an article ‘What a doll should be’ written by Muriel Rose for ‘Design for Today’, December 1933. These toys were stocked by the Little Gallery.